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Accidental death verdict after rider hit stationary caravan in Good Friday time trial

Experienced rider had head down and was unable to avoid crash, court hears

A coroner’s court has returned a finding of accidental death after a rider in a time trial died following a collision with a stationary caravan on the A63 in East Yorkshire on March 29.

The court in Hull heard that Christopher Auker, 65, had realised the danger at the last minute but had been unable to avoid hitting the caravan, whose driver had pulled over after a puncture. He sustained head, spinal and thoracic injuries and died at the scene.

In the aftermath of the accident, a number of races were cancelled as police called for full road closures, but racing later resumed after the creation of a new safety advisory group.

Driver Elliott Smith was towing the caravan on the westbound carriageway of the A63 when a blow-out forced him to stop. He  had just passed a lay-by and was unable to pull right off the road, but pulled over as far as he could, leaving the caravan poking out 1.5m into the road.

Coroner Prof Paul Marks said Mr Smith had “no alternative” but to stop where he did. He added: “He (Mr Auker) was engaged in a recreational activity he loved and was good at.

“It was entirely legal and well organised.”

Mr Auker’s widow Elizabeth told the Yorkshire Post: “This was a freak accident that could not have been foreseen.”

Lifelong time-trial rider

Mr Auker, who had been competing in time trials since he was 16, was taking part in a Good Friday event organised by Hull’s City Road Club. He was a keen rider and time-trial competititor who clocked up about 10,000 miles per year in training.

The court heard that after Mr Smith pulled over, two other riders “flew” round the caravan, but Mr Auker was in a deep tuck and was looking down as he approached the caravan.

His friend, David Jenkinson, witnessed the accident from a nearby layby.

Mr Jenkinson saw Mr Auker avoid a pothole, then “like the good time-triallist Chris was, he began to tuck back into the gutter.”

He said: “I thought, ‘Oh Chris, please, please start to move out.’ I saw Chris move more into the left-hand side, then at the last moment he saw the caravan and he just hit it. I just saw this almighty big crash, collision.”

“Wholly avoidable”

Collision investigator Alfred Place said that Mr Auker’s time trial bike was designed for maximum efficiency, but its aerodynamic design put him at the “distinct disadvantage” of looking down.

He said: “Such a line of sight in a controlled environment presents little in the way of hazard, but in a highway environment the rider needs to keep lifting his head up so a view of the carriageway is obtained.”

He said Mr Auker was travelling between 25mph and 30mph and would have had 30 to 40 seconds to see the vehicles.

It was, he said, a “wholly avoidable” crash.

Race organiser Geoffrey Backshall said in a statement that he believed the race was correctly marshalled, organised and safe.

“I personally have ridden the course in the past and felt far safer on the A63 than riding on single carriageways which form some of the races,” he said.

“Freak accident”

After the verdict, Mrs Auker said: “Chris was a very experienced cyclist; cycling was more than a hobby to him, it was an obsession. He rode thousands of miles in training every year and had been competing in time-trials for many years.

“He had ridden on this particular course dozens of times before, so he knew the area very well. Neither Chris nor I had any worries about this course – we both felt time-trials were safer on a dual carriageway where there is room for traffic to overtake.

“This was a freak accident that could not have been foreseen and nothing to do with the time-trial course.”

Racing was abandoned following the incident, and the road was closed between Welton Road at Brough and the A1034 at South Cave while emergency services, including police collision investigators, attended the scene.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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TeamCC | 10 years ago

Sounds like the right call here, an avoidable accident. Wonder if an aerodynamic clip on mirror would be a good invention (or make more people ride fast with their heads down too long).

billyman | 10 years ago

indeed a sad story, condolences to the gentleman's family, hopefully his accident will make other people more aware and to take more care

therealsmallboy | 10 years ago

Sad story.

I feel sorry for the family and anybody who was there and had to witness it.

nostromo | 10 years ago

Sad, sad story.

Years ago was cycling home from a holiday job into the teeth of a gale at night and, head down, went straight into the back of a parked car. Fortunately it was a saloon and I careered up onto the boot, over the roof and off the bonnet into the road on the other side.

Very lucky it wasn't a van or something bigger and flat-sided. Have kept my eyes up ever since.

maryka | 10 years ago

I hope any TTers reading this article understand that this isn't a freak accident at all but very avoidable. Ride with your head up enough to see what's going on in front of you. Don't ride with your head down. Simple.

Condolences to the man's family of course.

Simon E replied to maryka | 10 years ago
smaryka wrote:

I hope any TTers reading this article understand that this isn't a freak accident at all but very avoidable. Ride with your head up enough to see what's going on in front of you. Don't ride with your head down. Simple.

Condolences to the man's family of course.

+1 to all of the above.

The notice that now has to be displayed at every time trial instructing riders to keep their heads up is not there for decoration, it's crucially important! I've read that the vast majority of fatalities in TTs have been found to be due to head-down riding. And don't think it's only on DCs, there are actually more potential hazards on a normal A or B-road.

mad_scot_rider | 10 years ago

just - ouch!

I kinda feel bad for the motorist here - human nature being what it is, they must have some niggling feeling or responsibility - unreasonably so, of course

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